Annual Conference can be like a giant fellowship meal because it provides multiple occasions for sitting around tables (Brethren do like to eat) and conversing about the issue of the day. This year some difficult issues were (and remain) before us.
One was a specific query asking if the language of the Church of the Brethren 1983 Annual Conference paper on Human Sexuality would continue to guide us as it applies to same gender covenantal relationships. Another was a Standing Committee statement passed on from the 2008 conference called, “A Statement of Confession and Commitment”. Both papers were referred to a newly revised process for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues, which will allow us to listen to each other’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings on the topics. This means we are committing ourselves to a process where listening becomes as important as making a point.
As a denomination, a nation, and around most tables we are “not of one mind” on the issues surrounding human sexuality. Therefore, it is important for us to learn to listen to each other as we endeavor to be understood.
At the pre-conference Ministers’ Event, Celia Cook-Huffman made the following suggestions for exploring a difficult topic.
Use Effective Communication
Emotions come first, think of feelings as data, seek first to understand (rather than looking for agreement or problem solving), gather facts, check assumptions, everyone’s story counts, ask yourself if a facilitator or mediator would help?
Focus on the Positive
What is working in the relationship? What are the benefits? Where is there agreement? What are individual strengths of the people involved?
What is the Ideal?
What do you really want?
Key strategies such as Listening, Expressing Intentions, using statements to Reflect and Restate what the other person has said will help us hear each other more clearly. As the conversation continues we can Focus on new information (not repeating old tapes from our history) and remember to Focus on the problem. These mechanics will certainly help us. Most of all, Pray for your sisters and brothers and for yourself. God can use an open spirit in ways beyond our imagining to bring about shalom and justice in the world. Amen, may it be so.